Faith Matters: Rabbi Harold Caminker

January 18, 2014 

"We know nothing about death, nothing beyond the one fact that we shall 'die' -- but what is that, to die?

We do not know.

We must therefore assume death constitutes the final limit of all that we are able to imagine.

The desire to extend our imagination into the beyond of dying … seems to me to be a lack of faith disguised as faith.

Genuine faith says I know nothing about death, but I do know that God is eternity; and I also know that He is my God.

Whether what we call time will abide with us beyond our death becomes rather insignificant for us compared to the knowledge that we are God's."

-- Martin Buber

In our youth-oriented society, dying is a painful subject; for many, a forbidden topic.

But in this avoidance, we are somehow never prepared for this one certainty of existence.

Volumes have been written interpreting the meaning of death, but we have always shunned the practical, necessary questions.

This year, my annual winter adult education mini-series at Temple Beth El will focus on three end-of-life challenges/opportunities:

• Jan. 28 -- "Ethical Wills: Do I Need One?" Nowadays, we all have legal wills, which make sure that our property will be distributed in accordance with our wishes. And many of us have living wills, which is a euphemism for dying wills.

But an ethical will is an old Jewish tradition, going back to Father Jacob in the Torah, of sitting down while you are well and writing a letter or creating a videotape -- to be shared afterwards -- in which you try to express what you want from your children and your loved ones after you are gone.

Our tradition believes you are not completely dead when you die if you leave behind people who will understand what you stood for and who will continue your values. You do not have to be Jewish to write an ethical will.

• Feb. 4 -- "Cremation or Burial? A Jewish View" Only one generation ago, cremation was unknown in the Jewish community.

Today, more than one-third of Jews across America are choosing it.

Some of the reasons cited include environmentalism, discomfort with decomposition and finances.

Deciding what to do with our bodies and those of our loved ones is personal and meaningful.

In a sense, it is the last decision we ever make -- and one that cannot be undone. Together, we will clarify this all-important issue.

• Feb. 11 -- "What Happens When I Die? Jewish Reflections on the Afterlife" Modern Judaism rarely dwells on an afterlife, but Jewish tradition has plenty to say about this perennial question.

Ask Jews what happens after death, and many will respond that the Jewish tradition doesn't say or doesn't care, that Jews believe life is for the living and that Judaism focuses on what people can and should do in this world.

But not so fast.

We will explore what a number of prominent Jewish thinkers and writers believe we're headed for. As they say: two Jews, three afterlives.

Each Tuesday evening session of the mini-series will begin at 7:30 p.m. in the Temple Beth El sanctuary.

All are cordially welcome, and there is no charge to participate.

Rabbi Harold Caminker: 941-755-4900 (Temple), 941-806-9925 (cell), (email). Faith Matters is a regular feature of Saturday's Herald, written by local clergy members.

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